Losing My Religion
Disclaimer: This post addresses a topic that is sensitive for many people- religion. I want to make sure that people know I am in no way trying to advocate for or against any specific religion or trying to preach to you that your beliefs are wrong. Instead, I am just expressing my frustrations with my current relationship to Judaism.
When I was younger, I used to have nightmares during Yom Kippur.
I was taught in Hebrew School that on this day, G-d decides if you live or die in the next year. I took this so literally when I was young, praying to be inscribed into the book of life, actually afraid that I might die in the coming year.
I grew out of that phase quickly but from it I took a genuine interest and appreciation for religion.
My religious awakening
In 2003, my friend committed suicide and as I grieved (and struggled with my own issues following his death), I turned to religion. I woke up early and went to morning services on my way to high school. I studied what Judaism says about death and about suicide. I craved something that could help me cope with the death. While nothing stands out in my mind now that helped me accept his death, I do know that religion gave me a sense of comfort and community that helped me get through that rough patch.
It is no surprise that I got heavily involved in Hillel and Chabad in college. I attended Friday night services and meals, holiday celebrations and volunteered at events. Even though I went to a state school, most of my friends were Jewish and I actually lived with some Orthodox Jews my junior year of college. While I didn’t observe the Sabbath or fully keep Kosher, I was religious in my own sense, turning to my faith during times of grief – after my dad had a heart attack, when my mom was diagnosed with cancer and when my anxiety became so bad, going to class was a struggle.
Religion had a calming effect on me and I embraced it and its positive impact on my life wholeheartedly.
What does this have to do with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis?
I met Dan when I was 20, a junior in college. Dan grew up in a religious household, having attended private Jewish day school until he was in college, but he wasn’t particularly religious himself – he understood religion and observed the important holidays. Dan was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease six months after we met and about two months after we started dating. At first, his Crohn’s disease was tolerable- he was on 6mp and Asacol and that was that. But as his disease progressed and our relationship deepened, I found myself losing my religion.
When I graduated college and moved out of my parent’s house, my faith began disappearing little by little. First, I stopped keeping Kosher in the house. I blamed it on living in a place where Kosher meat wasn’t readily available but, in retrospect, if I really wanted to maintain that lifestyle all I had to do was drive 20 minutes north to a supermarket where it was available. I stopped attending Friday night services. I severed my ties to the local Jewish community.
The culminating event for my religious epiphany was Dan’s intestinal blockage. Dan was hospitalized for about five days and released on the day of the first Passover Seder. We had plans to go to my parents and his parents to celebrate the holiday, like always. But, with him recovering from having an NG tube and a blockage, and us preparing for his surgery, that wasn’t an option. I could have gone to the supermarket and bought matzah. I could have made an effort not to eat bread. But I didn’t.
For the first time in 25 years, I didn’t keep Passover and I didn’t feel guilty about it.
Everything happens for a reason
In Hebrew School, I was taught that everything happens for a reason. Specifically, we read a passage from Ecclesiastes (and also the song made popular by Pete Seeger, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)”):
For everything there is a season,
A time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.
In my mind, that was true up to a certain point. My father had a heart attack in order to make him become healthy. I had anxiety in order to make myself work harder. My mother had cancer to make her stronger and bring us closer together. But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why Dan (or any of my IBD friends) had Crohn’s disease. In fact, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.
Did Dan have Crohn’s disease so that he could become healthier? No, because being healthy and having Crohn’s is an oxymoron and impossible. Did he have Crohn’s to bring us closer together? Maybe, but not good enough (we were already attached at the hip to begin with). Did he have Crohn’s disease to raise awareness and help others with the disease? No because he was so angry himself he didn’t want to talk about it with anyone. I kept thinking but I couldn’t find a rational reason for someone to cause anyone to have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Where am I now?
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur just passed and, for the first time in my life, I did not attend synagogue services for either holiday. I just had no desire to go sit in services and pray when I am grappling with what I believe in. It didn’t seem right for me or for the people who I would have been observing with to put up a farce in temple.
Culturally, I am Jewish- I still identify as that, I will always identify as that. But religiously? Right now I’m nothing. I’m sure that will change over time- it’s hard to sever all ties with something that was such a large part of my life for such a long time. But for right now, I struggle with identifying with any religion that believes there is a good reason for someone to suffer from Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Has living with IBD impacted your relationship with religion? I want to hear about your religious and spiritual experiences- good and bad- since your diagnosis!
Entry filed under: Caregiving, General Disease, Mental Health. Tags: chronic disease, Chronic Illness, crohn's, crohn's disease, faith, ibd, indeterminate colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, Jewish, Jews, Judaism, religion, uc, ulcerative colitis.